We thought the Kirkfield Lift Lock was terrific. Then we found The Big Chute. One boat going up
Ontario is for boaters, especially power boats of all descriptions. From the waterfront cottages to the wide variety of marinas and boat launch sites, it's clear that being on the water is a major recreational activity.
The Big Chute can be found near the western end of the Trent-Severn Waterway, the same waterway on which we had earlier visited the Bocaygeon and Kirkfield locks. From Orillia we drove west first through rich and beautiful farm land, then as the road ascended a series of low hills we found an entirely different landscape -- forests and rocks. At the hilltop north of Coldwater we parked at the side of the upper of two lakes, and walked to a set of railway tracks.
The Severn River runs through a narrow, rocky gulch, with a drop of 17.7 meters. Beginning in 1917, a marine railway has carried boats of all sizes up and down. The present railway was completed in 1977 (the older railway car is parked off to the side for use in emergencies). Approaching the upper lake
As we looked down the track, we saw the big gears pulling steel cables, and soon a strange carriage appeared: a large steel framework, open at front and rear, and with a small motor boat in a sling in its middle. The car rose to the top of the hill, paused momentarily, the alarm sounded and the gate came down across the road, and the framework with cargo crossed over and descended on rails into the waters of the higher lake. The little boat floated free from its sling and motored away, and soon the railway was ready for the return voyage. This time it carried two large cabin cruisers, one behind the other. The whole trip takes less than ten minutes.
An ingenious device is used to keep the car level. The forward wheels ride on an outer pair of rails, the rear wheels on another pair of inside rails. The two pairs of rails are ingeniously laid so that the height of the inside rails at a point A is the same as the height of the Another load back down outside tracks at a point exactly one car length away from point A. The car is pulled up and down the hill by a continuous steel cable that winds around pulleys and bends in and out of a winch in the power house next to the railway.
Canada gets the best public relations use of this special transport. They could have made a conventional lock, says Parks Canada, but they selected the marine railway to prevent the invasion of "the parasitic sea lamprey" into the Lake Simcoe fishing grounds. Meanwhile, scores of Sunday excursionists, ourselves included, walked up and down the hill with the car, snapping pictures. The boaters waved to the spectators and the spectators waved back to the boaters. Fathers proudly explained to their children how it all worked. And a few motorcyclists gulped beers. It's a grand summer sight.
A couple of weeks ago we began noting that when a couple is on a boat the man drives while the woman handles the lines and pushes off from the dock. Ever since we've been looking for an example with the woman at the wheel, but haven't seen one yet. Why is this? Certainly women are at the wheel of all the vehicles on the road. But in a boat -- with a couple on board -- the man is in the cockpit while the woman scrambles around the deck. Sociological explanations are welcome. Champlain Statue, Orillia
Orillia, on the shores of yet another Ontario lake, is a charming small city. We probably have excessively positive feelings about Orillia because our motel was one of the nicest we have stayed in in months -- spacious, comfortable, well-furnished, a breakfast which was set out in the motel restaurant which guaranteed plenty of seats and tables. Stephen Leacock, one of Canada's best-known humorists of the early twentieth century, set many of his gently comic essays here; he lived on the lake shore not far from where our motel stands.
One feature of Orillia is a statue of the French explorer Samuel Champlain. It's an enormous bronze creation, worthy of any public square in, say, Paris. Champlain stands high, dressed explorer style and wearing spurs, although there is no sculpted horse. Far below at either side of the plinth are allegorical representations of Commerce and Christianity, with aboriginal persons being traded and ministered to. So the historic role of the French trappers / explorers / priests in Canada appears to be similar to that of the Spanish padres in California and Texas. As for today, there is a goodly concentration of francophones in the Huron region, and additional tourist attractions commemorating the early Jesuit missions.